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All Things Flow From
The Holy Ghost:
the Poems and Prose of
Rainer Maria Rilke
Ray Soulard, Jr. & Mio Cohen
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Portland, O r e g o k
All Things Flow From
The Holy Ghost:
the Poems and Prose of
Rainer Maria Rilke
Ray Soulard, Jr. & Mio Cohen
Sitting at your feet, Master, I learned to walk.
ALL THINGS FLOW FROM THE HOLY GHOST:
Selections from the Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke
English translations© 1980, 1981, 1982, 1987 Stephen Mitchell
Burning Man Books is a Special Projects Division imprint of
Scriptor Press, 32 Newman Rd. #2, Maiden, Massachusetts 02148
[I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all]
I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.
The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submissions through the world:
groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.
The Idiot's Song
They're not in my way. They let me be.
They say that nothing can happen to me.
Nothing can happen. All things flow
from the Holy Ghost, and they come and go
around that particular Ghost (you know) — ,
No we really mustn't imagine there is
any danger in any of this.
Of course, there's blood.
Blood is the hardest. Hard as stone.
Sometimes I think that I can't go on — .
Oh look at that beautiful ball over there:
red and round as an Everywhere.
Good that you made it be.
If I call, will it come to me?
How very strange the world can appear,
blending and breaking, far and near:
friendly, a little bit unclear.
In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly — . An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
She sat just like the others at the table.
But on second glance, she seemed to hold her cup
a little differently as she picked it up.
She smiled once. It was almost painful.
And when they finished and it was time to stand
and slowly, as chance selected them, they left
and moved through many rooms (they talked and laughed),
I saw her. She was moving far behind
the others, absorbed, like someone who will soon
have to sing before a large assembly;
upon her eyes, which were radiant with joy,
light played as on the surface of a pool.
She followed slowly, taking a long time,
as though there were some obstacle in the way;
and yet: as though, once it was overcome,
she would be beyond all walking, and would fly.
Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes.
That was the deep uncanny mine of souls.
Like veins of silver ore, they silently
moved through its massive darkness. Blood welled up
among the roots, on its way to the world of men,
and in the dark it looked as hard as stone.
Nothing else was red.
There were cliffs there,
and forests made of mist. There were bridges
spanning the void, and that great gray blind lake
which hung above its distant bottom
like the sky on a rainy day above a landscape.
And through the gentle, unresisting meadows
one pale path unrolled like a strip of cotton.
Down this path they were coming.
In front, the slender man in the blue cloak —
mute, impatient, looking straight ahead.
In large, greedy, unchewed bites his walk
devoured the path; his hands hung at his sides,
tight and heavy, out of the falling folds,
no longer conscious of the delicate lyre
which had grown into his left arm, like a slip
of roses grafted onto an olive tree.
His senses felt as though they were split in two:
his sight would race ahead of him like a dog,
stop, come back, then rushing off again
would stand, impatient, at the path's next turn, —
but his hearing, like an odor, stayed behind.
Sometimes it seemed to him as though it reached
back to the footsteps of those other two
who were to follow him, up the long path home.
But then, once more, it was just his own steps' echo,
or the wind inside his cloak, that made the sound.
He said to himself, they had to be behind him;
said it aloud and heard it fade away.
They had to be behind him, but their steps
were ominously soft. If only he could
turn around, just once (but looking back
would ruin this entire work, so near
completion), then he could not fail to see them,
those other two, who followed him so softly:
The god of speed and distant messages,
a traveler's hood above his shining eyes,
his slender staff held out in front of him,
and little wings fluttering at his ankles;
and on his left arm, barely touching it: she.
A woman so loved that from one lyre came
more lament than from all lamenting women;
that a whole world of lament rose, in which
all nature reappeared: forest and valley,
road and village, field and stream and animal;
and that around this lament-world, even as
around the other earth, a sun revolved
and a silent star-filled heaven, a lament-
heaven, with its own disfigured stars — :
So greatly was she loved.
But now she walked beside the graceful god,
her steps constricted by the trailing graveclothes,
uncertain, gentle, and without impatience.
She was deep within herself, like a woman heavy
with child, and did not see the man in front
or the path ascending steeply into life.
Deep within herself. Being dead
filled her beyond fulfillment. Like a fruit
suffused with its own mystery and sweetness,
she was filled with her vast death, which was so new,
she could not understand that it had happened.
She had come into a new virginity
and was untouchable; her sex had closed
like a young flower at nightfall, and her hands
had grown so unused to marriage that the god's
infinitely gentle touch of guidance
hurt her, like an undesired kiss.
She was no longer that woman with blue eyes
who once had echoed through the poet's songs,
no longer the wide couch's scent and island,
and that man's property no longer.
She was already loosened like long hair,
poured out like fallen rain,
shared like a limitless supply.
She was already root.
And when, abruptly,
the god put out his hand to stop her, saying,
with sorrow in his voice: He has turned around — ,
she could not understand, and softly answered
dark before the shining exit-gates,
someone or other stood, whose features were
unrecognizable. He stood and saw
how, on the strip of road among the meadows,
with a mournful look, the god of messages
silently turned to follow the small figure
already walking back along the path,
her steps constricted by the trailing graveclothes,
uncertain, gentle, and without impatience.
Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Buddha in Glory
from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed and growing sweet —
all this universe, to the furthest stars
and beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.
Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated by your infinite peace,
a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.
". . . Ah, poems amount to so little when you write them too
early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and
sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and
then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten
good lines. For poems are not, as people think, simply
emotions (one has emotions early enough) — they are
experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see
many cities, many people and Things, you must understand
animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which
small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must
be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to
unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen
coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still
unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they
brought in a joy and you didn't pick it up (it was a joy meant for
somebody else — ); to childhood illnesses that began so
strangely with so many profound and difficult
transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and
to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to
nights of travel that rushed along overhead and went flying with
all the stars, — and it is still not enough to be able to think of all
that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each
one different from all the others, memories of women
screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have
just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have
been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the
room with the open window and scattered noises. And it is not
yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them
when they are many, and you must have the immense patience
to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not
important. Only when they have changed into our very blood,
into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be
distinguished from ourselves — only then can it happen that in
some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their
midst and goes forth from them."
The Second Duino Elegy
Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas,
I invoke you, almost deadly birds of the soul,
knowing about you. Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of you, veiling his radiance, stood at the front door,
slightly disguised for the journey, no longer appalling;
(a young man like the one who curiously peeked through the window).
But if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars
took even one step down toward us: our own heart, beating
higher and higher, would beat us to death. Who are you?
Early successes, Creation's pampered favorites,
mountain-ranges, peaks growing red in the dawn
of all Beginning, — pollen of the flowering godhead,
joints of pure light, corridors, stairways, thrones,
space formed from essence, shields made of ecstasy, storms
of emotion whirled into rapture, and suddenly, alone:
mirrors, which scoop up the beauty that has streamed from their face
and gather it back, into themselves, entire.
But we, when moved by deep feeling, evaporate; we
breathe ourselves out and away; from moment to moment
our emotion grows fainter, like a perfume. Though someone may tell us:
"Yes, you've entered my bloodstream, the room, the whole springtime
is filled with you ..." — what does it matter? he can't contain us,
we vanish inside him and around him. And those who are beautiful,
oh who can retain them? Appearance ceaselessly rises
in their face, and is gone. Like dew from the morning grass,
what is ours floats into the air, like steam from a dish
of hot food. O smile, where are you going? O upturned glance:
new warm receding wave on the sea of the heart . . .
alas, but that is what we are. Does the infinite space
we dissolve into, taste of us then? Do the angels really
reabsorb only the radiance that streamed out from themselves, or
sometimes, as if by an oversight, is there a trace
of our essence in it as well? Are we mixed in with their
features even as slightly as that vague look
in the faces of pregnant women? They do not notice it
(how could they notice) in their swirling return to themselves.
Lovers, if they knew how, might utter strange, marvelous
words in the night air. For it seems that everything
hides us. Look: trees do exist; the houses
that we live in still stand. We alone
fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us, half
out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope.
Lovers, gratified in each other, I am asking you
about us. You hold each other. Where is your proof?
Look, sometimes I find that my hands have become aware
of each other, or that my time-worn face
shelters itself inside them. That gives me a slight
sensation. But who would dare to exist, just for that?
You, though, who in the other's passion
grow until, overwhelmed, he begs you:
"No more. . ." ; you who beneath his hands
swell with abundance, like autumn grapes;
you who may disappear because the other has wholly
emerged: I am asking you about us. I know,
you touch so blissfully because the caress preserves,
because the place you so tenderly cover
does not vanish; because underneath it
you feel pure duration. So you promise eternity, almost,
from the embrace. And yet, when you have survived
the terror of the first glances, the longing at the window,
and the first walk together, once only, through the garden:
lovers, are you the same? When you lift yourselves up
to each other's mouth and your lips join, drink against drink:
oh how strangely each drinker seeps away from his action.
Weren't you astonished by the caution of human gestures
on Attic gravestones? Wasn't love and departure
placed so gently on shoulders that it seemed to be made
of a different substance than in our world? Remember the hands,
how weightlessly they rest, though there is power in the torsos.
These self-mastered figures know: "We can go this far,
this is ours, to touch one another this lightly; the gods
can press down harder upon us. But that is the gods' affair."
If only we too could discover a pure, contained,
human place, our own strip of fruit-bearing soil
between river and rock. For our own heart always exceeds us,
as theirs did. And we can no longer follow it, gazing
into images that soothe it or into the godlike bodies
where, measured more greatly, it achieves a greater repose.
The Sonnets to Orpheus: I, 2
And it was almost a girl who, stepping from
this single harmony of song and lyre,
appeared to me through her diaphanous form
and made herself a bed inside my ear.
And slept in me. Her sleep was everything:
the awesome trees, the distances I had felt
so deeply that I could touch them, meadows in spring:
all wonders that had ever seized my heart.
She slept the world. Singing god, how was that first
sleep so perfect that she had no desire
ever to wake? See: she arose and slept.
Where is her death now? Ah, will you discover
this theme before your song consumes itself? —
Where is she vanishing? ... A girl, almost . . .
The Sonnets to Orpheus: II, 13
Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it will your heart survive.
Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.
Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.
To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.
The Sonnets to Orpheus: II, 29
Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.
Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night. What feeds upon your face
grows mighty from the nourishment thus offered.
Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss that you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.
In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.
And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.
[What birds plunge through is not the intimate space]
What birds plunge through is not the intimate space
in which you see all forms intensified.
(Out in the Open, you would be denied
your self, would disappear into that vastness.)
Space reaches from us and construes the world:
to know a tree, in its true element,
throw inner space around it, from that pure
abundance in you. Surround it with restraint.
It has no limits. Not till it is held
in your renouncing is it truly there.
[World was in the face of the beloved]
World was in the face of the beloved — ,
but suddenly it poured out and was gone:
world is outside, world can not be grasped.
Why didn't I, from the full, beloved face
as I raised it to my lips, why didn't I drink
world, so near that I could almost taste it?
Ah, I drank. Insatiably I drank.
But I was filled up also, with too much
world, and, drinking, I myself ran over.
[Rose, oh pure contradiction]
Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
of being No-one's sleep under so many
from Letters to a Young Poet
You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You
have asked others before this. You send them to magazines.
You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when
certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you
want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You
are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid
right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is
only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the
reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread
its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself
whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your
night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if
this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn
question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in
accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its
humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and
witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if
no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel
and love and lose. Don't write love poems; avoid those forms
that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work
with, and it takes great, fully ripened power to create something
individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in
abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes
and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe
your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your
mind and your belief in some kind of beauty - describe all these
with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express
yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your
dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday
life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself; admit to
yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its
riches; because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor,
indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison,
whose walls let in none of the world's sounds - wouldn't you still
have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure
house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up
the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will
grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place
where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other
people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of this turning-
within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come,
then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good
or not. Nor will you try to inte4rest magazines in these works:
for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece
of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen
out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. So, dear
Sir, I can't give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and
see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its
source you will find the answer to the question whether you
must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you,
without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you
are called to be an artist. Then take the destiny upon yourself,
and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking
what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be
a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in
Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.
But after this descent into yourself and into your solitude,
perhaps you will have to renounce becoming a poet (if, as I
have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one
shouldn't write at all). Nevertheless, even then, this self-
searching that I ask of you will not have been for nothing. Your
life will still find its own paths from there, and that they may be
good, rich, and wide is what I wish for you, more than I can say.
What else can I tell you? It seems to me that everything has its
proper emphasis; and finally I want to add just one more bit of
advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your
whole development; you couldn't disturb it any more violently
than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to
questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest
hour, can perhaps answer.